Driver in 2007 fatality was allegedly texting when he hit pedestrian

Brock Parker
The York Dispatch

Editor's note: This article originally was published on July 24, 2008.

Police have charged a Dover man with vehicular homicide because he was allegedly receiving and sending text messages at the time he struck and killed a pedestrian in York City in 2007.

Brian Widmayer, 21, of 2622 Abby Lane, Dover, turned himself in to York City Police Thursday afternoon and was arrested on charges of vehicular homicide, reckless driving, careless driving, careless driving resulting in death, driving without a license and being involved in an accident involving death while not being properly licensed.

Authorities said Widmayer struck, dragged and killed 43-year-old David Peters on May 7, 2007, while driving a SUV on East Market Street about 11:09 p.m. At the same time he hit Peters, Widmayer was receiving and sending text messages on his cell phone, according to Tim Barker, senior prosecutor with the York County District Attorney's Office.

After more than a year of investigating, Barker said York City Police and the district attorney's office determined that at the speed Widmayer was traveling that night, he should have been able to see Peters in the roadway and react.

"We have plenty of time and ability for a normal driver to respond and react," Barker said. "He doesn't because he's a distracted driver. He is on his cell phone, in this case, texting."

Barker said it is the first instance, in his tenure, of a person being charged in York County for vehicular homicide stemming from the driver text messaging at the time of the crash. Barker said this is the fifth time during his tenure that the use of a cell phone has factored into vehicular homicide charges.

Peters, who had no fixed address, was a native of Red Lion who had suffered from Huntington's disease for more than eight years. He could no longer walk upright or without a cane. In the months before his death, he had been sleeping at the home of friends in the 600 block of East Market Street.

On the night of the crash, police said, Widmayer's Jeep Grand Cherokee was traveling eastbound on East Market Street when he hit Peters in the street. Barker said Widmayer's SUV dragged Peters more than 60 feet after the impact. Peters was rushed to York Hospital but died of massive trauma, according to the York County Coroner's Office.

An investigation by York City Police Sgt. Steven Butler revealed that Peters was dragged at speeds of 30 to 36 mph -- suggesting that Widmayer's SUV was speeding in the area, where the speed limit is 25 mph, said Barker, who read details about the crash from an affidavit.

Based on a visibility study York City Police conducted in the area of the accident, Barker said a normal driver traveling at 30 mph would have between 3.17 to 7.29 seconds to spot Peters and react. At 36 mph, a normal driver would have 2.3 to 5.73 seconds to react, Barker said.

"Either time frame would afford a normally attentive driver time to avoid a collision with Mr. Peters," Barker said.

Authorities say they do not believe alcohol was a factor in the crash.

But Barker said York City Police obtained a search warrant for Widmayer's cell phone records, which revealed that at 11:09 p.m. on the night of the crash, Widmayer both received a text message and sent a text message to one of his co-workers. The cell phone records also show that at 11:09 p.m., Widmayer also called 911 and the call lasted three minutes.

Records from York County 911 show that Widmayer called 911 at 11:10 p.m., Barker said.Widmayer was arraigned before York District Judge Linda Williams Thursday. He was not being held at York County Prison Thursday night. Widmayer's attorney could not be reached for comment after 5 p.m. Thursday night.

Barker said the investigation into the accident has been "constant and steady" from the time of the accident until the time of Widmayer's arrest. He said conducting the visibility study and obtaining the search warrant for Widmayer's phone records were both time-consuming processes."

Sgt. Butler worked incredibly hard at this case," Barker said. "He went above and beyond ... to make sure all the questions are answered."